GRAEME LEWSEY – Interview with the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival CEO

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Graeme Lewsey. Image via Many of Many.

In his seventh consecutive year as the Chief Executive Officer of the Melbourne Fashion Festival (whose Principal Partner is Virgin Australia and is known as VAMFF), Graeme Lewsey has contributed his undeniably unique and expansive vision to the Asia Pacific fashion industry. He has pioneered and leveraged fashion in this country, elevating it to a point where VAMFF is one of the most coveted fashion events in the Southern Hemisphere.
Graeme’s vibrant creative talent and prowess for discovering fashion’s infinite potential has not only shone from the runways of VAMFF. His defining influence and palpable proficiencies have been injected into Australian Fashion Week in Sydney, where he was a key factor in its development; in his Creative Director role at Melbourne Spring Fashion Week; being the Senior Executive at IMG for the Asia Pacific region; and his establishment of events including the Sydney Fashion Festival, Singapore Fashion Festival and Hong Kong Luxury Week.
On the twentieth anniversary of his winning the prestigious Woolmark Australian Young Designer of the Year Award as an RMIT Bachelor of Arts graduate (majoring in Fashion & Apparel Design), which saw him receive a scholarship to work with overseas fashion houses, Graeme reflects on the many forms of creativity, the power of technology and his innate instinct to constantly “Create for Better”.

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Image via Man of Many.

 

Following your Woolmark Award in 1998, which was the first overseas fashion house you worked with? It was with Promostyl (a fashion forecasting agency) in Paris, then Paul Smith in London.

After your scholarship, you worked in the suit department of Paul Smith before swiftly landing a role as a Junior Press Officer in the UK designer’s team. What was it about Paul Smith that drew you to the brand initially? Did you love it and want to be a part of it, or did you see potential there that hadn’t yet been tapped into? I was inspired by Paul and initially drawn to his incredible collaborations and support of young artists. And at the time, his runways were getting rave reviews. Also the concept of ‘menswear with a twist’ was uniquely compelling back then.

What was it like working in the London fashion industry in the heady days of Dazed & Confused, Kate Moss and Doc Martens? What was your most surreal moment? I’m just so grateful to have experienced those days. The most memorable [moment] was sitting on the staircase of a small PR firm I was working at, in London’s Soho, hanging out with Corrine Day (British fashion and documentary photographer, and fashion model) and Kate. At the time it wasn’t at all surreal. It’s only surreal now when I think about the amazing Kate Moss we know today!

How would you describe the Australian fashion industry today, and its evolution of the past 20 years? It’s confident, connected and respected.

The way you approach fashion and design incorporates culture, collaboration and technology. When did you realise that fashion had potential beyond ‘designing clothes’? I think my personal experience within multiple areas of the fashion ecosystem has helped. Transition from a designer to publicist, then to ‘front man collaborator’ has helped me unearth and better understand many sectors of the industry. This has enabled me to see, seek and grasp the opportunities.

This year’s VAMFF theme centres on technology. How do you think the many forms of technology impact fashion today? What is the most intriguing facet of this advancement? So many. Commerce platforms, production, fabrications, supply chain, consumer experience, metrics, augmented reality, amplification the list goes on… the most intriguing facet of this advancement I think is the ‘match-made-in-heaven’ relationship with social media. The amplification of content and designers, and the ability for consumers to endorse brands has changed the landscape for ever. The consumer is the new power of authority.

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Graeme Lewsey speaking at the opening of the VAMFF 2018 exhibition, You Can’t Do That. Photographed by Lara Antonelli Leorke.

Personally, the 2018 VAMFF will be my 14th year covering Melbourne Fashion Week and watching it evolve into the highly anticipated event it is today is truly rewarding, especially in a time where retail fashion is suffering. How do you and your team of creatives and marketers help to keep fashion, and runways in particular, still relevant and covetable? Great question. The simple answer is that we just love developing and staging them; passion takes over. The longer, more specific answer is we have experts who curate a program that is directly linked and attuned to what we know consumers want, and what the industry needs. Careful business analytics and listening to quality research is key. And then there’s the fact that we are a bunch of creatives too. The Festival team members get to create every day. We make things happen and reward ourselves through the economic outcomes generated for all of our participants and stakeholders.

Seven years behind the helm at the Melbourne Fashion Festival – how do you keep every day fresh and interesting? By sticking to the motto of ‘Create for Better’ and surrounding myself with amazing people who inspire me (and are just awesome humans). From my partner of 19 years, through to my partner in crime (General Manager of the Melbourne Fashion Festival, Yolanda Finch), and so many more in between. I love being a ring leader, but I love learning more. And you learn when you listen to great people.

Do you believe that creativity is contagious if given the right environment in which to thrive? 110%. As I said, that’s my motto – ‘Create for Better’.

How important is your team in realising an idea and helping it to fruition? We are a team and we create ideas and make things happen. It’s not just the designers! But enabling creativity is one thing, putting wind in the sails is another. That comes from good culture that supports ideas germination and development. I’m super proud that the Festival business enables that.

Are bloggers still a very real and dominant force of fashion week? How has this changed the face of fashion media for the better (or worse)? Bloggers are now, more than ever, a prominent part of VAMFF. Influential Fashion Bloggers such as HowTwoLive are now not only attending the Festival but partaking in Fashion Talks as part of the VAMFF Arts Program. A testament to how influential the blogosphere is. Fashion Bloggers allow a different perspective to Fashion Weeks. Previously, it was Fashion Media dominating the messaging on what was cool and what was not, however now we have a new breed of ‘influencers’ reporting to their loyal following about new trends, brands and movements to look out for, through their own eyes.

What can guests expect at this year’s VAMFF? This year’s Festival will see many firsts, including the largest number of runways in its history, the largest line-up of women speakers and unmissable new events. New designers such as Hansen & Gretel, Arnsdorf, Chris Ran Lin and P.E. Nation, along with many others, will be making their spectacular Festival debuts. The Plaza will be the ‘place to be’ during this year’s Festival, showcasing food from partners such as Mr Miyagi and hosting Visa’s ‘Shop The Runway’, along with premium activations from Virgin Australia Runway Bar, Mercedes Benz Star Lounge, Westfield Doncaster Fashion Kaleidoscope, Asahi Festival Bar, Priceline Pharmacy of Beauty pop up and more.
Guests can also immerse themselves in the Festival’s Arts Program, with over
40 events and exhibitions available to the public.

QUICK RANDOM ONES:
– Favourite trend from Brit Fashion circa 2000? Men’s shoes and no socks
– Most hated current fashion trend? Stupidly high heels that make walking look impossible.
– Favourite model of the moment? Olympia Christou. [featured in the VAMFF 2018 campaign].

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Olympia Christou photographed by Justin Ridler for the VAMFF 2018 campaign.

– Most covetable designer? Toni Maticevski.
– If you could have anyone’s job in the world, who would it be? That person who is going to start the equivalent of this Festival one day in NYC or LA or Shanghai..! [laughs]
– If you could bring to life a mythical creature, which would you choose? Unicorn.
– Biggest ‘pinch me’ moment? Every year, the first runway exit of the Gala Runway at the Festival.
– Most romantic thing you’ve ever done? Proposed to my partner on a catamaran at sunset in the Whitsundays.
– Favourite holiday destination? Byron Bay Hinterland and surrounds.

 

Tickets to VAMFF are still available via: https://vamff.com.au/

 


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